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China’s closure of Buddhist sites dismay Tibetans

Jokhang Temple, Potala Palace, and monasteries in capital Lhasa were shut down for visitors during China's National Day
Chinese tourists on the roof of the Jokhang Temple in Tibet on Sept 10, 2016. The temple and other religious sites in Tibet’s capital Lhasa were closed to the Tibetan public and pilgrims during the observation of China’s National Day.

Chinese tourists on the roof of the Jokhang Temple in Tibet on Sept 10, 2016. The temple and other religious sites in Tibet’s capital Lhasa were closed to the Tibetan public and pilgrims during the observation of China’s National Day. (File Photo: AFP)

Published: October 10, 2023 11:47 AM GMT
Updated: October 10, 2023 11:51 AM GMT

Tibetans have expressed alarm and dismay following the closure of some of the holiest Buddhist sites and beefing up security measures during the National Day holiday period by the pro-Beijing administration.

The famous Jokhang Temple, Potala Palace, and monasteries in Tibetan capital Lhasa were shut down for visitors during a time when thousands throng to the sites, irking the Tibetans, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Oct. 9.

Two unnamed residents told RFA the religious shrines in Lhasa were closed for eight days of public holiday marking the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

“The Chinese government has always imposed restrictions on Tibetans and conducted propaganda campaigns in Tibet during the National Day holiday period,” an unnamed resident said.

The resident pointed out that the inspection of travelers was something new this year.

“But this year, authorities also began searching for people traveling on public transportation. Those without proper documents were not allowed to stay in Lhasa,” the resident added.

The Lhasa Tsuklakhang Management Committee, which runs the Jokhang temple, issued a notice on Oct. 9, declaring Oct. 10 an additional holiday during which religious sites would remain closed to the public.

Allegedly, the Chinese officials had forced the Buddhist monks in Tibetan monasteries to “undergo political re-education” on the Chinese National Day celebrated on Oct. 1.

Among the Buddhist temples in Tibet, the Jokhang Temple is considered the holiest and most important one. King Songtsen Gampo of the Tibetan Empire constructed the temple in the seventh century.

Another unnamed source alleged that the Chinese authorities had warned government officials, office staff, and students “not to visit religious sites or go on pilgrimages.”

Any such act defying the officials would result in the individuals “losing their jobs and pensions, or [being] expelled from their schools if caught,” the second unnamed source said.

“Though it is normal for party cadres not to participate in religious activities in the Lhasa area, these days special restrictions are placed on students from taking part in religious activities,” the resident alleged.

Residents have often voiced their concerns over the increasing restrictions placed on them by Chinese authorities.

“Since the end of September, the Chinese government has cited a pretext of maintaining public safety and security during the National Day holiday period,” the second unnamed source said.

“Officials deployed police in and around Lhasa and began screening and searching the public,” the source added.

The growing number of restrictions on Tibetans in Lhasa began with China’s violent suppression of a peaceful protest in the region in 2008.

The 2008 anti-China protests in Tibet saw hundreds of Tibetan monks gathered in Lhasa to mark the 49th anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against Beijing rule.

The protesters had also sought the release of monks, who were detained as they tried to celebrate the awarding of the US Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama, the supreme spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism.

China crushed the protests by November 2008. About 1,300 people were arrested for their involvement in the protests and 55 were handed down jail terms.

In December 2008, Chinese authorities arrested 59 people in Tibet accused of spreading rumors and inciting sentiment against the state and public safety, state-run media reported.

Rights groups reported the death toll during the protests as 140, whereas China maintains that there were only 22 deaths.

China annexed Tibet in 1949 after the communist takeover, claiming the region has been always an integral part of China.

Chinese forces crushed the subsequent uprising, forcing hundreds of dissenters to flee Tibet. China denies any legitimacy of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India, and the Dalai Lama.

Beijing is accused of constant efforts to erase Tibetan culture, language, and religion with an aim to assert more control over Tibet.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media reported that more than 1.9 million tourists have visited Lhasa during the National Day holiday as of Sept. 30.

As the religious places of worship were closed, the tourists visited museums and historical places that were open.

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